One of the nations premiere music festivals

John Kilkenny

Artistic Director

John Kilkenny enjoys a unique career as a performer, conductor, educator and artistic administrator. Hailed as a “particularly fine timpanist” by the Washington Post, John’s recent seasons include multiple performances of the Michael Daugherty Raise the Roof: Concerto for timpani, solo recitals at the National Gallery of Art, Chamber music collaborations at the Kennedy Center, and solo, chamber and orchestral performances across the country.  He has had the privilege throughout his career to perform with virtually every Washington DC performing Arts organization, spanning groups as diverse as the National Symphony and Washington Opera, to the Bach Consort and Verge Ensemble.

John is Director of Percussion Studies and Associate Director of Concert Bands at George Mason University.  In 2011, John founded the Mason Percussion Group, an ensemble committed to performing, commissioning and collaborating in the creation of major works for percussion chamber music. Recent and upcoming highlights include performances with the Mason School of Dance, the 2016 Percussive Arts Society International Convention  (new literature showcase and FOCUS day performances)the 2016 New York State Music Educators Conference, 2014 Virginia Music Educators Conference, and the Millennium stage of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As a conductor, John has appeared with honor groups and professional ensembles across the country, and made his international conducting debut with the Banda Concertios in San Jose, Costa Rica.

In the summer of 2018, John served as Artistic Director of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. He will reprise this role in 2019. For many years he was artist liaison with the Indiana University percussion academy and co-founded the University of maryland Summer Percussion Workshop. An active clinician and adjucator, he has served for many years on the panel for the Music for All National Percussion Festival.   John received his BM from Juilliard and MM from Temple University, and is proudly sponsored by Zildjian cymbals, Remo percussion products and is a Yamaha Performing Artist.

For more information please visit www.johnkilkennypercussion.com

Originally from Eureka, Kansas, her education began at a small, neighborhood elementary school just blocks from her home, and matriculated to a large, high school community with a notorious fine arts program located 50 miles one way from home. Hilary has have traveled long and far to be part of schools that offer high quality learning experiences and an environment enhanced by culture and diversity in all its many forms.

Following graduation from Emporia High School, Hilary entered The University of Kansas (KU) School of Music, Lawrence, KS, where she studied Voice and Piano Performance. While at KU, Hilary was a choral scholar at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka, KS, and later at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Her time at KU as a musician and as a “Jayhawk” provided her with many worthwhile experiences and happy memories. While in Lawrence, Hilary also experienced her first teaching job at Raintree Montessori School where she taught classroom/general music to boys and girls grades 1-6. In the summer of 2006, Hilary and her husband, Geoffrey, moved to Memphis as he was called to be the Organist/Choirmaster at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and Artistic Director of The Memphis Boychoir, Memphis Girlchoir and Memphis Chamber Choir. In Memphis, Hilary had the opportunity to teach Orff Music at Hickory Ridge Elementary School (former Memphis City Schools), and also to serve as the Youth Minister and School Chaplain at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School and Church.

In the spring of 2011, Hilary graduated from Memphis Theological Seminary with a Masters of Arts in Religion. During her time at MTS, Hilary served 2 terms on the Student Senate and also as a Formation for Ministry Leader. Following her studies at MTS, Hilary graduated from Union University in the spring of 2013 with a Masters degree in Education. Hilary’s graduate studies continue at The University of Memphis as a doctoral student studying education administration, leadership and policy (EdD). In December 2013, she was awarded The University of Memphis, Dr. R. Eugene Smith Doctoral Fellowship/Scholarship GA for Higher and Adult Education. Also, while in Memphis, Hilary taught elementary and early childhood music at St. Mary’s Episcopal School for girls.  In addition to her time teaching and studying in the classroom, Hilary experienced her largest “classroom” yet as an on air classical music host for NPR, WKNO/WKNP.

Before moving to Sewanee, Hilary worked and taught for Uncommon Charter Schools in New York City, a leading Charter Network in the United States that pioneered the “Teach Like a Champion” methodology. Hilary has completed over 200 hours of Teaching Artist Training through Lincoln Center Education at The Juilliard School in New York City.

She is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity and Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. In Sewanee, Hilary is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Music and in the School of Theology.

Hilary and her husband, Dr. Geoffrey Ward, and their son reside in Sewanee.

Hilary Dow Ward

Managing Director


Festival Staff


Office Manager

Anna Burklin

Anna Burklin has worked for the SSMF since 2017 and concurrently holds a position in the University of the South’s Department of Music. She studied vocal performance and graduated Cum Laude from the University of the South in 2018, at which time she was also awarded the Gilchrist Music Award for Distinction in Performance. In the summer of 2018 Anna also served as the Festival’s Front of House Manager.


Director of Student Life

Seth Shaffer

Seth Shaffer is a freelance musician and private instructor of the tuba in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. An alumnus of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, Shaffer was named a finalist of the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition in 2017. He holds a Master’s of Music Performance from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Texas Christian University.


Orchestra Librarian

Alison Verderber

Alison Verderber is currently the Orchestra Library Fellow at the New World Symphony, and has previously held positions at the Colburn School, the Knights, Orchestra of Northern New York and Crane School of Music. Ms. Verderber has also worked in the libraries of the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. In addition to her work as an ensemble librarian, she has worked as an archivist at the ARChive of Contemporary Music and as Manager of Music and Materials at Theatrical Rights Worldwide. Ms. Verderber holds a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music, as well as a master’s degree in library and information science and an advanced certificate in archives and records management from LIU Post Palmer School of Library and Information Science.


University Administration

Terry Papillon
Stephen Miller